Magical North Bay teen wins social action award

 When Daniel Rosenthal was 3 years old, his uncle showed him a magic trick: He made a coin disappear, then reappear. The toddler immediately wanted to learn how to do it himself.

Fast forward four years, and a 7-year-old Daniel now was performing his own magic act in a hospital ward. An elderly, bedridden woman called him over and told him, “That’s the first time I’ve heard laughter in here.”

Now 15, Daniel, who lives in Santa Rosa, is the founder and director of Magic is Medicine. The organization and its volunteer magicians from the Bay Area to Miami to New York bring positive vibes to hospitals, rehabilitation centers and schools for the developmentally disabled. Audiences range from children with cancer to wounded veterans.

Daniel Rosenthal

As a testimony to Daniel’s and the organization’s accomplishments, Daniel has been chosen to receive one of five 2012 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards. Each honoree receives $36,000 from the Bay Area–based Helen Diller Family Foundation.

The awards, announced June 28, recognize Jewish kids who are making a difference through social action or service projects in their communities and beyond. Now in its sixth year, the Tikkun Olam Awards program has given more than $1 million to 30 California teens. A celebratory luncheon will be held for this year’s winners in San Francisco on Aug. 20.

Daniel’s work has definitely made a difference. There are several Magic is Medicine student clubs throughout California, where the young members learn public speaking skills alongside magic tricks. Moreover, Daniel is a member of the Society of American Magicians, and famous magician David Copperfield (founder of Project Magic) gave him advice about starting Magic is Medicine student clubs.

Daniel says he will use his award money for college, and to expand Magic is Medicine, including starting the first international chapter in Israel (

“I’m incredibly grateful to have the chance to do this,” the rising high school sophomore said. “We’re run by by volunteers, and we have so many great people involved, from our board of advisers to the magicians, and the thing that keeps us a family is a shared passion for making people smile. That’s tikkun olam to me.”

This year’s other winners:

•Zak Kukoff, Thousand Oaks, founder of Autism Ambassadors. Zak, 17,  became aware of the issues special-needs students face when his cousin was diagnosed with autism in 2008. The nonprofit provides more than 1,000 specialized lesson plans that are taught by students in 25 schools. Zak’s first book, “The Autism Ambassadors’ Handbook,” will be published this fall.

•Joseph Langerman, Coronado, the founder of Voices Against Cruelty, Hatred and Intolerance. Joseph, 19, started VACHI on his own high school campus; his campaign to educate teachers, students and parents about the effects of bullying spread to surrounding high schools, and now has an international following through Facebook.

•Adam Weinstein, Los Angeles, founder of Archimedes Learning. Adam, 18, is an aspiring astrophysicist who has already completed prestigious internships at UCLA and NASA. His nonprofit engages underprivileged children in math and science activities at three L.A.-area schools.

•Celine Yousefzadeh, 19, Los Angeles, creator of Fashion with Compassion. Her charity event is an annual student-run fashion show which she created after hearing about a high school in Sderot, Israel that was devastated in 2007 by rockets from the Gaza Strip. In three years, she has raised more than $20,000, with each year’s proceeds going to a different Israeli nonprofit or charity group.

Last year’s group of five winners included Gabe Ferrick of Santa Rosa and Naftali Moed of Pacifica, and the 2010 winners included Jason Bade of Foster City, David Schenirer of Sacramento and Kyle Weiss of Danville.

For more information on the Diller Teen Awards, visit

Emma Silvers

Emma Silvers is a former J. staff writer.